SOUTH PORTLAND – It’s go time.

With the regular season finally completed, the South Portland Red Riots (6-2) cruise into the Class A football playoffs as the third overall seed in the West, securing that spot with a big 20-7 win over rival Portland on Friday night.

In the latest installment of the “Battle of the Bridge,” the Red Riots roared back from a 7-0 third-quarter deficit, scoring 20 unanswered points to win the game. The comeback was keyed by two big defensive plays. First, Logan Gaddar picked off a Bulldog pass at the Riots’ four and took it back 96 yards for South Portland’s first touchdown. Then, after Michael Salvatore put South Portland in front on a 17-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run, Brendan Horton sealed the deal with a 53-yard interception return for a touchdown.

While South Portland had already secured a playoff spot before the game with the Bulldogs, the win ensured that they would open the postseason with a home game.

And when the Riots take the field on Saturday afternoon, they will be facing a familiar foe. No. 3 South Portland will host No. 6 Sanford at 1 p.m. and the Riots will be hoping for a similar result to the one they got on Sept. 16, when the Redskins traveled to South Portland and the Riots won by a score of 42-34.

The win was part of a huge five-game midseason winning streak by South Portland that propelled the Red Riots to the top of the Crabtree Point standings. After starting off the season slowly with a 59-21 loss to Cheverus in the season opener, the Riots reeled off wins against No. 2 Thornton Academy, the Redskins, Massabesic, Noble and Kennebunk before being upended by No. 7 Windham on Oct. 15.

In the Sept. 16 clash at South Portland, Sanford gave the Red Riots everything they could handle as the game came down to the final minutes and was only decided by a gutsy call by Redskin coach Mike Fallon and a huge defensive stop by the Red Riots when the game was on the line.

With less than two minutes to go in the game, Sanford’s Alex Shain had just pounded in a fourth-and-one touchdown with to cut what had once been a two-possession South Portland lead to 35-34. After a timeout by either team, Fallon elected to go for the two-point conversion – and the win.

On the resulting play, Shain took a pitch as he rolled left and angled for the corner of the end zone. Hit once by Salvatore, Shain kept chugging. But it was enough to slow the big back down, and that gave the Riots time to swarm. After a struggle, Shain was lifted off his feet and stopped… at the six-inch line.

No good.

South Portland would score again in the final minute on a 56-yard run by back Dan Medeci, and sophomore Joey DiBiase intercepted Sanford quarterback Cody Mooney on a last-chance drive to seal the victory.

The end-game drama would have been unnecessary if feisty Sanford hadn’t clawed their way back into contention. The Riots led 21-14 at the half after trailing early 14-7, having taken advantage of a couple of Sanford fumbles and a running into the kicker penalty, all of which resulted in drives that produced points. The final score of the half came on a tipped 11-yard pass by Salvatore that was hauled in by Gaddar to give the Riots the momentum heading into the break.

But the first drive of the second for South Portland began and ended in disaster, as Salvatore was picked off, and six plays later, senior back Jon Schroder punched it in from the 1 to tie things at 21. The Riots responded quickly, however, striking on a second-effort five-yard touchdown run by Salvatore to cap off a quick drive, then extending the lead further early in the fourth on a five-yard run by Medeci that made it 35-21.

Sanford did not fail to respond, answering on their ensuing drive with an eight-play, 61-yard push that ended in a two-yard touchdown run by Shain. The Redskins stopped South Portland defensively, then again moved efficiently downfield to set up two tries from the 1 before Shain put it in. That paved the way for the decisive two-point conversion showdown, and Salvatore’s heroic stop.

The No. 3 South Portland Red Riots will be looking to beat the
No. 6 Sanford Redskins for the second time this season when the two
teams square off in the Class A West quarterfinals in South
Portland on Saturday afternoon. (File photo)

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